For Zakk Wylde, songwriting is all about perspective.
“I may have three songs about one subject; looking at it from different angles provides different lyrical content," he says. "So ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’ could’ve been about a business deal that went bad, and ‘Free Fallin’ is actually about the same thing. But I would’ve never known if you didn’t tell me that. My songs are a lot like that.”
But his ability to change things up goes beyond lyrics.
At 21, Wylde first stepped into the spotlight as Ozzy Osbourne’s guitarist in 1988. A decade later, Wylde took to his own mic when he founded Black Label Society.
Over the years, he’s also made acting cameos, worked alongside countless legends, and created Wylde Audio.
Black Label Society are celebrating their 20th anniversary and 10th album, Grimmest Hits, which hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts. Resonant with shades of Allman Brothers, Alice in Chains, and of course, Sabbath, Grimmest Hits showcases fans' favorite things about Wylde’s style: thrashy riffs, slick bluesy vibes, stormy Sabbathian doom, midtempo piano-laden ballads, Southern gritty vocals, and heavy rhythms.
Wylde has been splitting his time between Black Label Society, who are coming to the Marquee Theatre on Saturday, February 24; his Black Sabbath tribute act Zakk Sabbath; and his on-again, off-again foray as Osbourne’s guitarist with Osbourne (currently on-again).
Recently, he spoke with the Phoenix New Times about stayin’ alive, running a business, and wanting to tour with Mac Sabbath.
Phoenix New Times: It seems like you’re feeling better after the string of cancelled shows. Even as an experienced tour warrior now, do you find it difficult to stay healthy on the road as opposed to when you were younger?
The key? Never stop drinking alcohol.
The whiskey takes care of everything!
Yes! Pour it on everything. The germs are afraid to go anywhere near your body. No – I usually never get sick. My dad never got sick. Never the flu, gonorrhea, syphilis, herpes, lice. I’m the same way. Being on the road is no big deal, but mind you, we’re meeting different people every day.
On Grimmest Hits, you offer up a collection of songs that showcase some of your biggest talents as a guitarist. What’s the inspiration here?
Lyrically, I get inspired by things that have happened to me or, uh, things that I’ve seen happen to my friends. Or if I read an autobiography and it inspires me. Religion, war. It’s easy to find an endless source of lyrical inspiration. Using metaphors is another layer. I remember, just from reading a Wikipedia thing on Crazy Horse, I wrote lyrics based on that. You know, my generation, some of the best lyric writers would be Father Cantrell Jerry, and St. Christopher — you know, Chris Cornell — as far as using metaphors. Metaphors that have a lot of weight to them.
When you reflect on the albums in your catalog, are there any that really stand out to you as your favorite?
There’s definitely standout moments on all of them. I think it’s interesting looking back and seeing the direction of how it’s morphing into what it turns into. Like looking at older photos; the clothes you used to wear … before I had the beard … you look at how things progress. It’s so interesting. And the production on the records just keep getting bigger and bigger.
Last time we talked, you had just launched Wylde Audio. What has been most difficult most about that venture?
Nothing has actually been difficult. If you’re doing something you love, it shouldn’t be difficult. Embrace it. Don’t be afraid of it. When bands get ripped off, or whenever I’ve gotten screwed over on business deals, you have no one to blame but yourself. If you’re not on top of it, then you deserve everything you’re going to get. If anything, with the music business now, one thing it’s gonna do is teach the younger generation is there shouldn’t be any horror stories like back in the day.
When Ozzy used to tell me horror stories… you know, Black Sabbath when they’re 23 years old, doing records, touring around the world, and all their faith and trust is in their management. Can I get this house? A car? Buy my parents house? Yeah no problem! In the meantime, while they band is touring, the management is buying the houses and signing in their own name. So, the band owns nothing. The band figures they are being looked after, then they come back and are told they are actually broke and don’t own anything. But that should never happen anymore if you’re on top of your music business.
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What's your take on the band Mac Sabbath?
I think Mac Sabbath should do a tour with Zakk Sabbath! We’d celebrate all day long.
What’s your strongest BLS chapter?
The beautiful thing about the band is … like with the Grateful Dead, it’s bigger than a band. People have met at BLS shows and gotten married. Stuff like that amazes me. It brings people together on travel, in business, in lasting relationships. But for some reason, I do love how the Polish chapter hooks up with the Norway chapter to hang out.
What're three things that if you learned them earlier in life you'd be further ahead than you are right now?
I don’t regret anything. But if you knew certain things early on, then you’d make sure they never happen again further on in life. There’s always something new around the corner all the time and that’s the best thing about life. Robert Plant is the epitome of that. A nomad never stops, a feather to the wind. You can’t look at life any better than that.
Black Label Society are scheduled to perform at the Marquee Theatre in Tempe on Saturday, February 24. Tickets are $35 to $65 via Lucky Man.